In this Pokémon Card beginner’s guide we cover everything from collecting rare & valuable cards to playing the TCG (trading card game). You’ll also learn how to identify fakes, how to store your cards, where to sell them and how to get involved in the Pokémon community. Continue reading below…
N.B. Some of the links on this page lead to relevant auctions on eBay. If you purchase we make a small commission at no extra cost to you, but it helps keep Hobby Help going! Thanks for your support!
Welcome to The World of Pokémon Card Collecting!
Nothing brings back more nostalgia for me than Pokémon cards.
For the dedicated few, that passion stayed through tough teenage years and into adulthood. But for many, it slipped by the wayside.
The Electrabuzz, sorry electric buzz of a holo pull was soon replaced by first kisses, house parties and underage drinking.
It wasn’t until July 2016 that the flame was reignited for me. That’s right, the global phenomenon that is/was Pokémon Go dropped.
Instantly, I was teleported back in the world of Pokémon and it felt incredible!
I’m not saying it wasn’t without its glitches, dear god Niantic fix faster, but being able to catch an Onix on the streets of London was mind-blowing.
Within days I was on eBay trying to find those old cards I collected.
“Holy crap a Holographic Machamp in terrible condition, only $100. I must buy this now!”
Uneducated, I bought a load of random cards, overpaid a bunch, and although happy to have them in my hands again, that Pokémon itch wasn’t quite scratched.
Fast-forward almost 4 years, and I’m still just scratching the surface of the endless possibilities when it comes to Pokémon card collecting.
However, I know infinitely more about the hobby now.
That’s what brings us to this guide. I’m going to teach you exactly how to get back in to Pokémon cards.
Whether you want to rebuild your old collections, invest in something that brings you joy, or perhaps like me, just share something cool from your past with your kids, this guide is for you.
So read on dear friend, as we’re going to immerse you back into the world of Pokémon one card at a time!
Why collect Pokémon cards
If you’re here, you probably don’t need reminding, but let’s do it anyway:
- They’re frigging cool and you know it!
- They’re the ultimate nostalgic hobby
- They can be worth a fortune
- Values of sought after cards are only going to increase over time
- You can get into it no matter what your budget is (new sets are coming out all the time)
- They are so many options for collectors (vintage cards, error cards, PSA graded cards, specific Pokémon, Japanese cards, booster packs, the list goes on!
- There’s a great online community of people willing to help and answer questions
But if you need further convincing, PokeRev, a big player in community and prolific YouTuber recently opened up a sealed 1st Edition Base Set Booster Box that’s valued around $90k! The excitement this box opening generated was off the scale! Credit to him for putting together such entertainment.
**Be sure to watch all the way through – pack 20 belongs to Hobby Help, where he pulled a holo for us!**
Where Should a Beginner Start Collecting Pokémon cards?
If you’re in it for nostalgia or investing there are some key out-of-print sets that you’ll want to consider first. These are:
1. The Original Pokémon Base Set
Where it all began, the original English base set collection was release in 1999 and consists of 102 cards. 16 of which are holos.
Now at this point it’s worth mentioning 1st Edition and Shadowless cards. These are considerably more valuable.
1st Edition is pretty self-explanatory; they are the first ever print-run of the cards.
Shadowless cards, you guess it, don’t have a shadow!
Specifically, you’re looking to see if there’s a shadow around the rectangle box containing the Pokémon illustration.
But there are also some other clues like a lighter HP font at the top of the card and the date including ’99’ at the bottom.
Now to throw something else in the mix, it’s also worth pointing out that graded cards are more valuable too – if the grading is good of course.
PSA tend to get the majority of the Pokémon grading market and are most commonly use by collectors.
However, because it’s generally harder to achieve GEM MINT 10 status from Beckett, if you do, your cards will be worth more.
At this stage though, all of this is very hypothetical for a beginner collector.
GEM MINT 10 Base Set Cards go for hundreds of dollars on eBay, and if they’re 1st Edition or Shadowless, we’re talking thousands – sometimes tens of thousands!
For example a 1st Edition Base Set GEM MINT 10 Charizard can expect to sell for upwards of $50,000. Maybe even in the $60k-70k range.
Don’t let that put you off though, unlimited base set cards, perhaps ungraded, are still quite obtainable on eBay without breaking the bank.
6 months later we were greeted with the wonderful Jungle set. Containing 64 cards (16 holos), it was/is much easier to complete.
Nowadays, prices aren’t as much as the original base set, making it a great starting point for a beginner.
Again, there is a 1st Edition print run, with top graded cards like Clefable and Snorlax reaching low four-figures on eBay.
Towards the end of 1999 the 62 card Fossil set came along. It contains 15 holos and features great mythical Pokémon like Articuno and Zapdos.
Similar to Jungle it’s a nice starting point for a beginner collector, but still has a high ceiling with top graded 1st Edition cards.
4. Team Rocket
This was my favorite set as a kid. Probably because it was the only one that I actually managed to fully complete!
It was released in mid 2000 and contains
82 cards (well, 83), 18 of which are holos.
I think a lot of people love this set because of the introduction of ‘Dark’ Pokémon. Some of the artwork is just incredible, and gave an edgier side to Pokémon cards.
The set even includes the first ever ‘secret rare’. 83/82 is Dark Raichu which remains a fan favourite to this day.
Like those before it, there’s also a first edition run. Interestingly, one of the most valuable cards in the set is a 1st Edition Dark Magneton, which if graded PSA 10 can fetch north of $3,000 on eBay!
Any other Pokémon sets a beginner should consider collecting?
Wizards of the Coast, who produced the early Pokémon card sets, had a collection of promotional cards called the ‘Wizards Black Star Promos‘. These would be used at special events, films, tournaments, etc.
In total there are 53 cards, containing a nice mixture of card designs and illustrations. Again, it’s quite a fun set for a beginner to collect, and may even bring back memories of your first Pokémon movie!
After Fossil and before Team Rocket, we also saw the introduction of 130 card Base Set 2.
It wasn’t particularly popular at the time though, and was probably a bit too similar to the original Base Set, considering it was only released a year later.
With that being said, some collectors like to go for the full sweep of vintage Pokémon cards. I’ll leave that up to you though!
At this stage, I also want to mention some other popular vintage sets like Gym Heroes, Neo Genesis, Legendary Collection and the e-Card Series. All of which are great options as your collection builds.
However, as a starting point, I think the four sets mentioned above are perfect for beginners.
There’s also one last set I’d like to mention; Evolutions from the XY Series. This is the 20th anniversary set released in 2016.
If you want a nostalgic throwback, without the price tag, this is the set for you.
It only contains the first generation of Pokémon, but mixes in some modern ‘full-art’ card designs, a reverse holographic in each booster, and even five secret rares!
You can pick up a 36 pack booster box on Amazon for about $100-150. Considering a vintage booster box costs four-figures, it’s a really great set for beginners on a budget.
What Type of Vintage Pokémon Card Products Should I Collect?
Specifically, what I’m referring to in this section are:
- Single cards
- PSA/Beckett graded cards
- Sealed Booster Packs
- Sealed Booster Boxes
Let’s break these down one-by one…
Single Pokémon Cards
Original Base Set Holographic Pokémon cards 1-9.
Single cards are probably the best place to start if you’re entering/re-entering the hobby.
Why you ask?
Because they’re the cheapest way to build your sets. You can buy cards, on an individual basis, at your own pace.
It also helps you get an idea of what sellers mean when they say ‘Near Mint’ or ‘Good Condition’ for example.
You can then set your own standard of what you’re willing to accept for your collection.
When I first started out, I would only buy cards listed as ‘Near Mint’ or better.
Now I have full sets that aren’t necessarily pristine enough to achieve top grading scores (if I desired), but are very nicely presentable when you flick through my binders.
Graded Pokémon Cards
1st Edition Team Rocket ‘Secret Rare’ Dark Raichu – PSA Graded MINT 9
If you’ve got a bit more cash to splash, or you’re a bit OCD about white corners or print lines, you may wish to start collecting graded cards.
Again, you can set the standard of what you’re willing to accept.
Some collectors only want GEM MINT 10s. Others like the idea of collecting specific Pokémon in each grading (1-10).
Generally, speaking I’m not a big fan of this approach, but I do appreciate how cool a 1-10 Charizard set could look!
What’s worth remembering though, that grading cards yourself has the potential to add a lot of value now – especially if they come back as MINT 9 or GEM MINT 10.
You lose this option buying them pre-graded.
However, if you plan to hold for the long-term, there’s still plenty of value to be made over time – all depending on the card of course.
Sealed Pokémon Booster Packs
Next up, you also have the option of buying sealed Pokémon booster packs.
However, do this with caution.
Savvy sellers weigh their boosters, with heavier packs having a greater chance of pulling a holo card.
Whether you agree with the ethics of this approach, it’s business at the end of the day, and sellers want to make sure they’re not relinquishing top cards.
What you’ll often find on Amazon are booster packs listed as ‘heavy‘.
Although they don’t guarantee a holo card, I guess you’re upping your chances of pulling one. Naturally, though, you’ll pay a premium.
It then turns into a game of Roulette. Do you want to drop $100+ on a booster and pray it’s a Charizard?
I’ve learned the hard way a couple of times buying boosters, so don’t really recommend it for beginners.
Sealed Pokémon Booster Boxes
Last up we’ve got sealed Pokémon booster boxes.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your budget.
If you see the hobby as an investment and want to sink some money into it, prepare to part with mid-four figures for a sealed vintage booster box.
1st Edition varieties can even creep closer to the five figure mark.
What can potentially come out of these boxes though can be pretty incredible.
We’re talking mint cards that you haven’t seen in 20+ years.
Naturally, they make great candidates for grading. And again, if you’re looking to hold long-term, you may well find the value of your graded cards exceeds the price you paid in a few short years.
Personally, I think this strategy is best served for more experienced collectors, but who am I to tell you what to do with your money?!
For the ultimate throwback and nostalgia, I’m not going to lie, nothing beats cracking open a vintage booster box. Just sayin 😉
Where’s the Best Place to Buy Pokémon cards?
In this section we’re going to break it down into two parts; where to buy vintage Pokémon cards and where to buy new Pokémon cards:
Where to Buy Vintage Pokémon cards
If you purchase we make a small commission at no extra cost to you, but it helps keep Hobby Help going! Thanks for your support!
If you’re looking for a hidden gem that isn’t Amazon, I’m sorry to disappoint! It’s the go-to place for beginner collectors.
That isn’t to say that once you get involved in the online Pokémon community, you won’t find private sellers who have access to some wonderfully rare cards. You absolutely will.
But you can start with Amazon, especially if you’re just dipping your toes in the water.
My favorite Pokémon card sellers on Amazon are:
- Troll and Toad who at the time of writing, have over 12,000 listings! You can basically find any card you want!
- Core TCG
- Game Time TCG who has a huge selection of graded cards.
Where to Buy New Pokémon cards
In the U.S. Walmart and Target are good mainstream options, but can sometimes lack stock. With regard to online stores both Over The Top Trading and Potomac Distribution have good inventory and competitive pricing.
Where’s Best to Track Your Pokémon Card Collection?
There’s only one resource that I’d recommend for tracking which Pokémon cards you’ve acquired…
Pokellector – What a great website! Not only can you create an account and tick which cards you have, but they’ve also got a great bank of images too.
Furthermore, they’re very clued up on which new sets are coming out and when – if you’re into the new sets of course.
How to Determine Pokémon Card Values
Whether you’re just getting into Pokémon card collecting, or you’ve been collecting for a while, it’s only natural to want to know how much your Pokémon cards are worth!
Thankfully, the internet has provided and there are three useful resources we recommend checking out.
Naturally, these Pokémon card value databases are predominately made up from historical eBay data, as it’s the biggest Pokémon card marketplace online.
What is the Pokémon Trading Card Game?
The Pokémon Trading Card Game (or TCG) emerged in 1996, and it’s still going strong decades later. This collectible card game is based on the Pokémon universe created by Satoshi Tjiri and artistically designed by Ken Sugimori, which features dozens of fictional creatures all with their own unique strengths, skills, and abilities.
Human Pokémon Trainers try to “catch ‘em all,” as the saying goes. Trainers catch Pokémon (with a Poké Ball) and are able to give them commands and to send them into combat against other Pokémon.
This is the basic concept behind the TCG. Each player acts as a Pokémon trainer, in control of various Pokémon which they can deploy against each other. Pokémon are represented on cards, so your card deck will contain a number of different Pokémon. Remember that each individual Pokémon has its own distinctive abilities.
Once a Pokémon has suffered sufficient damage in battle, it is knocked out, and the opposing player gets a Prize card. Your goal is basically to knock out your opponent’s Pokémon and draw Prize cards.
Basic game play
Players usually flip a coin to determine who goes first. You’ll both shuffle your decks and then draw seven cards. Player 1 will introduce one Basic Pokémon onto the field—no attacking on the first turn.
The Pokémon that is sent out onto the field is the Active Pokémon. It will be the one attacking and being attacked.
Players can also maintain a “Bench” of up to five additional Basic Pokémon. These bench cards may be introduced or rotated onto the field over the course of the game.
What is a Basic Pokémon? As the name suggests, these are fundamental, essential Pokémon for gameplay. If your initial hand has no Basic Pokémon, then you’ll need to reshuffle and draw again, as you need at least one to get started. Your opponent is permitted to draw an additional card in this circumstance.
Some cards are Evolved Pokémon. These are more advanced, “evolved” versions of Basic Pokémon. Generally speaking, these cannot be played right onto the Bench. Rather, you should have the basic version of a given Pokémon first, and then place the corresponding evolved version on top.
Each Pokémon card contains crucial information, including the name and type of the creature, the number of Health Points (HP), and the nature of attacks by that Pokémon.
Once the game is underway, players can perform actions such as:
- Playing Basic Pokémon
- Upgrading to an Evolved Pokémon
- Sending an Active Pokémon to the Bench and replacing it with another card
- Playing Energy cards
- Playing Trainer cards
Energy cards provide the fuel for conducting attacks. There are different types of Energy, such as Water, Lightning, Grass, Fire, and so on. Basically, an attack will come at a particular “cost,” requiring an certain amount and type of energy, which you pay using an Energy card.
Trainer cards allow you to perform useful activities like healing damage to your Pokémon or recovering previously discarded cards.
Honestly, the easiest way to learn to play is to get out there and start playing! If you have friends who are already familiar with the game, they’ll be invaluable in helping you learn the ropes.
Alternatively, check if there is a League in your area. Leagues are organized groups of Pokémon fans and TCG players who meet up to enjoying Pokémon battles. They tend to be quite friendly, and there should be Professors or other experienced players who can help new players out.
You can also check YouTube, which has endless tutorials—I really like this 5-part series.
How to get started with deck building
Okay, so now you’ve learned the basic rules of the game and want to start collecting cards and building an awesome deck. How, exactly, do you set about doing this?
One of the simplest ways to get started is to use a pre-constructed deck. There are three basic kinds:
- World Champion
- Battle Arena
Theme decks are sold and distributed widely, and once you buy one you’re ready to play. The main downside is that they’re usually not the best decks in the world. They tend to have lots of Pokémon and Energy cards but not enough Trainer cards.
Why is this a problem? Remember that you can only ever use 6 Pokémon cards at once (1 Active, 5 Benched). So if you keep drawing Pokémon after Pokémon, your hand will be full of cards you can’t use.
Plus, you can typically only play one Energy per turn, so there’s no need for tons of Energy cards in your deck.
A theme deck is fine if you just want something simple to learn how to play, but it won’t take you very far.
World Champion decks are designed to replicate the decks of TCG champions—so they’re obviously great decks! The catch? They’re identified by their silver borders and marked backs. You can enjoy playing with them at home or at casual events, but you’re not allowed to use them at official competitions.
Finally, Battle Arena decks are probably your best bet if you want to buy a pre-constructed deck. They generally contain a good mix of Pokémon, Energy, and Trainer cards.
Building your own deck
What if you want to build own customized deck? While some people like the ease and convenience of pre-constructed decks, countless others prefer a more personal touch.
This Reddit Wiki is a great resource for building a beginner deck. It offers specific recommendations on the cards that should form the core of your deck, and outlines how you can develop a strong theme (such as Healing or Energy Acceleration).
Part of building a good deck means finding balance among players. For an enjoyable game, two opposing beginner decks should be relatively well balanced and evenly matched. One should not have the clear upper hand all the time. This is something to think about if you tend to play against the same opponents regularly.
Rare and valuable cards
Some of the older Pokémon cards have reached true collectible status due to their rarity. If you’ve been collecting since the 1990s, you might be surprised to find that a few of your cards are now worth astronomical amounts.
Check out this famous video below. Gary goes on Pawn Stars and shows off his insane collection of Charizard’s!
Which cards rank among the most desirable?
- Trophy Pikachu Trainer: “Trophy” cards are awarded to tournament winners at official Pokémon competitions. Very, very few of these cards are printed, since they’re reserved only for top-placing competitors, and many recipients of course never sell them. There are various kinds of trophy cards stemming from different competitions and different years, but the most valuable of these trophy cards date back to Japanese tournaments from 1997 to 1999.
- Pikachu Illustrator: This 1998 trophy card only exists in 39 (or fewer) copies. It was awarded to the winners of Japan’s CoroCoro Comic Illustration Contest. Getting your hands on one of these will take a lot of luck and a lot of money.
- Tropical Mega Battle: In 1999, the Pokémon TCG tournament was held in Hawaii, and 12 of these promo Trainer cards were printed for some of the lucky people able to attend. Its rarity has led this card to be sold for five figures.
- Holographic Shadowless First Edition Charizard: This is a cool card, thanks in part to its holographic appearance, which increases the value—up to around $12,000.
- Holographic Shadowless First Edition Venusaur: Another card featuring a holographic appearance, and it’s also shadowless. Though not worth quite as much as Charizard, Venusaur is still quite rare and in-demand and commands a respectable price of around $6500.
- Misprinted Fossil Krabby: In this case, a simple misprint has made this card unusual and led people to seek it out. High demand has led to high value, estimated at $5000.
- Charizard Holofoil: Produced in 1995, this card has a highly distinctive appearance, featuring an image of Charizard against a holographic background. Its design sets it apart aesthetically from other Pokémon cards, and since it’s a special edition item, it’s also rare.
What drives the high prices of these and other super-valuable Pokémon cards? In a word: Rarity. The one factor uniting all of these cards is that they only exist in limited quantities.
Unsure if a card is real or fake? Compare its appearance to a card that is known to be real. Luckily, it’s quite easy to find images of authentic Pokémon cards on the internet! You can compare images of real cards to any cards of questionable authenticity before you decide to buy.
PkmnCards is a good resource for doing this. Search for a given card to see what the font, symbols, and other design elements should look like on a real card.
Storing your cards
If you do end up acquiring rare or valuable cards, make sure to store them properly so they retain their value.
Buying some soft plastic card sleeves is an easy and affordable way to protect your cards. You can also opt for sturdier sleeves to prevent holographic cards from warping. Watch this video tutorial for advice on the best storage methods.
Pokémon cards can be “graded” to determine how pristine and well-preserved they are. Flaws like worn away corners and surface scratches are common in cards that get a lot of use, but they decrease the card’s value.
This isn’t a huge deal with common cards, especially if you’re a casual TCG player. However, it’s important to be aware of this if you’re collecting rare and valuable cards.
Selling your cards
How can you tell if your cards are valuable enough to be worth selling? First, check to see if a card is classified as rare, as denoted by a star in the card’s bottom right corner. If your card is not rare, it is probably only worth a few cents, maybe up to a quarter.
If a card is rare but not holographic, then it may be worth a little more, up to about a dollar.
If your card is both rare and holographic, then you might want to look into the market value. The simplest method for approximating value is to search for your specific card and seeing recent prices reached on sites like eBay.
The Pokémon universe
In addition to collecting cards and playing the Trading Card Game, there are so many ways to become involved in Pokémon. If you like Pokémon cards and the TCG, then you may also be interested in:
Pokémon originated from role-playing video games, debuting in Japan in 1996 as Pocket Monsters Red and Pocket Monsters Green and elsewhere known as Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Players move the protagonist through a fictional place called Kanto as he strives to catch Pokémon and train them for battle.
The Pokémon video game series is one of the most popular of all time. New games continue to be released, and as of 2019, the series is in its eighth generation.
This anime television series began airing in Tokyo in 1997, a testament to the quick success of the video games. The series centers on protagonist Ash Ketchum (or Satoshi, as he is known in Japan).
He has numerous adventures as he travels the world, catches Pokémon, befriends Brock and Misty, faces down the villainous Team Rocket, and strives to become a Pokémon Master.
It’s definitely an entertaining show, and I recommend giving it a watch! Ash and his companion Pikachu are two of the most iconic and well-known animated characters of our time.
In addition to the animated television series, there are also over 20 Pokémon movies! Most of these films are also animated and are directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and Tetsuo Yajima.
A live-action film called Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is slated for release in May 2019. The basic plot: When private investigator Harry Goodman disappears, it’s up to his former Pokémon partner Detective Pikachu and his son Tim to solve the mystery and bring him home. As someone who loves both Pokémon and mysteries, I am definitely looking forward to this one.
This mobile game took the world by storm when it was released in 2016. Within its first several months, it was downloaded over 500 million times.
The game involves a map-based version of augmented reality, tracking you via GPS and showing you the real-world locations of virtual Pokémon. Players must physically walk around to visit virtual PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms and catch new Pokémon.
Many players credit the game with encouraging them to spend more time outside and get exercise.
If you do download the game, however, make sure to pay attention to your surroundings as you walk! There have been some reports of accidents caused by distracted Pokémon Go players.
The world of Pokémon is vast, creative, and always evolving. There are now over 800 Pokémon species. The creative designers of these fictional monsters draw on a wide array of inspiration, incorporating the natural world, mythology, real animals, and pure imagination.
Have fun out there, and good luck in your quest to catch ‘em all!